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Whyte JJ, Mason MV. Residents Teach Young People That Smoking Is Not for Them. JAMA. 1998;279(13):988A. doi:10.1001/jama.279.13.988
Prepared by Ashish Bajaj, Department of Resident Physician Services,
American Medical Association.
The tobacco industry has come under intense scrutiny during the past
few years. It is hard to pick up a newspaper without seeing an article about
newly released documents from a tobacco company outlining its efforts to influence
young people to smoke. At the same time, tobacco industry lobbyists are negotiating
with Congress to settle several lawsuits filed by states and individuals against
the tobacco companies.
The American Medical Association (AMA) has set a goal of a smoke-free
America by the year 2000, with a strong emphasis on preventing children and
adolescents from starting to smoke. Despite the efforts of the AMA, the American
Cancer Society, and the American Lung Association, almost 20% of teenagers
are smokers and more than 80% have tried smoking at least once. Almost a billion
packs of cigarettes are illegally sold to minors each year. Even more alarming
is that of those teens who have tried to stop smoking, fewer than 5% succeeded.
Clearly, physicians can and should do more.
The AMA-Resident Physicians Section recently launched a project to educate
teens about the dangers of smoking. This project, entitled "Smoking Is Not
for Me," sponsors a national essay contest for sixth through eighth graders.
Students are encouraged to write a 300-word essay explaining why smoking is
not for them. With a generous grant from the AMA's Educational and Research
Foundation, we are able to sponsor prizes in every state. The contest has
been a huge success; we have received more than 8500 essays from children
in 33 states.
A vital component of this project goes beyond the essays. We have encouraged
residents and fellows to go into schools to talk about the ill-health effects
of smoking. We engage in a dialogue with students and discuss the reasons
they should not smoke. We explain the health effects and even bring in diseased
lungs so they can see a concrete example of how smoking destroys the body.
When time permits, we go over respiratory physiology as part of their science
classes. We are proud to report that more than 2000 students have been reached
in these classroom presentations.
At a time when Hollywood and advertising agencies continue to portray
smoking as an activity for glamorous people, physicians need to present a
more realistic perspective. Teenagers need to understand the cumulative effects
of smoking; they also need to build greater self-confidence so they are less
susceptible to peer pressure. As young physicians, we are in a unique position
to relate to these young, maturing adults. We are adult authority figures,
yet we are still relatively close to their age and cultures. Our presence
in the schools allows us to use this identity to combat smoking. When as many
6-year-olds can identify Joe Camel as can identify Mickey Mouse, we know we
have a long, tough battle. However, it is a battle that we must pursue.
One of our most rewarding experiences in this program has been when
a student comes up to talk to us at the end of the program and tells us, "You
know, Doc, smoking is not for me." Let's do what we can to hear these words
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